Big Ant Studios – following the success of their previous game, Ashes Cricket – have hit the ground running barely a month later with your companion to the Australian Open – AO Tennis.
AO Tennis was developed in association with Tennis Australia and is the most complete look at the Australian Open yet. It’s also been on the receiving end of a fair amount of buzz, as we haven’t seen a major tennis game released in many a year.
If all you want out of this is a tennis game, then this will undoubtedly be of some interest. Tennis fans have been starved of their sport on the current generation of console, and perhaps for some, AO Tennis is the fix they need. However – plagued with as many bugs as it is, you may want to give the devs time to implement patches that we are told are on their way, most importantly for the Xbox One version. At time of writing, there’s still no campaign mode on Microsoft’s console.
Let’s start with the game modes in AO Tennis. There are a number of different modes (in the PS4 version, at least); casual, career, and Australian Open. Casual is self-explanatory – pick a player, a match type, a court, a match length, and an opponent, and away you go. Australian Open lets you play through the Melbourne tournament as actual players and compete for the shiny trophy at the end, whether it’s in men’s or women’s singles or doubles, or even mixed doubles. Finally, career mode lets you play as a self-created avatar, or a ‘star player’ like Nadal, and work your way through a (literal) calendar of games and tournaments to increase your rankings. It shows you what your ranking requirements are to enter the tournament and what kind of prize money you’ll come out with if you win. Of course, there’s also an online mode, where you can play against others and tests your skills (or lack thereof, in some cases) against real people. And, as was included in Ashes Cricket, there’s an academy, where you can create and customise a player. You can even download players other people have made.
Casual mode is an easy way to lean into the game, whether you’re a tennis champion or merely an apprentice, and get the hang of the controls. The scheme is very similar to Top Spin; left stick to move and aim your shots, face buttons for the different types of shot – slice, flat, top spin and lob. You can also use the triggers for a bit of variation. It’s all about timing and charging your shot correctly. Holding down the face button of choice before you hit it will give you a more powerful shot, and there’s a meter above your head that shows you how well/poorly you’ve timed it. There’s even an in-game challenge system that’ll allow you to challenge line calls made by umpires. A bit of practise and theoretically you should be good to go, however the controls (movement especially) can be uncooperative at times, meaning occasionally it’s more than just your opponent you’re fighting against.
In-game, you can bring up a pause menu to remind yourself of the controls, but a really cool part is current stats. You can look at everything from how many aces to longest rally as it happens. You can also change the camera perspective and which side of the court you’re playing on, which is a nice touch if you feel the camera is working against you. In between games, you’ll get shown tips on gameplay and fun facts about players and stadiums that you can cycle through. The in-game announcers sound legitimate, and the pre-game walk through to get to the court is a pretty nice inclusion.
If you’ve been waiting for a tennis game, and you have a PlayStation 4, AO Tennis might be worth checking out. Same can be said for what we’ve played on Xbox One, even pre-patch, if you’re happy for the occasional bug and the odd uncooperative control.
While you make up your mind, here’s 30 seconds of me playing as me for your enjoyment.